A prayer tree has been planted in church. If you would like us to pray for any person or situation please write on a leaf and hang on the tree. If you cannot attend church you can hang a virtual leaf on the tree by clicking on the leaf button at the bottom of the home page to complete a contact form. All requests will be prayed for by a member of the prayer team each week.
Thursday 27th May Mass 10.00am
Sunday 30th May Parish Mass 9.30am
Special PCC meeting with the Archdeacon
When will “Freedom Day” arrive? The headlines of some of the newspapers show that many people are eagerly awaiting June 21st as a day when our country can proclaim freedom once again. This freedom, of course, would be from all the rules that have been imposed to keep the coronavirus under some kind of control. There are now some reasons to doubt that there will be any dramatic change by that date. All the same, there are still a great many people who would see the end of face coverings and social distancing as a freedom that cannot come soon enough.
Today the Church celebrates a freedom that is of a different kind. We hear in the Acts of the Apostles about the way in which the apostles, who had previously been hiding away from the world, were once again free to proclaim with confidence the love of Christ. No longer confined within the same four walls, they went everywhere, proclaiming the good news that Christ is risen. What’s more, they even broke down the language barriers that prevented people from understanding the message. In fact, it was not they who were breaking down those walls, but it was the work of the Holy Spirit - the fire of God’s love.
When they were set free by the gift of the Holy Spirit, these people who proclaimed and received the message, would no longer be bound by the constraints of an old law. The Law had been brought to its fulfilment through Jesus and now everyone who was baptised in his name would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. They would live by the law of God’s love. St Augustine said that it is love alone that separates the children of God from the children of the devil. He even went as far as to say: “Love and do as you will.” When we are born of the Spirit, we are born to love and the power to love is the gift of the Spirit.
For Christians, freedom also means that we are released from the power that sin and death hold over us. St Paul names two sets of contrasting types of behaviour. He lists such things as factions, quarrels and envy alongside other tendencies that arise from a lack of self-control. When we put our own selves at the centre of everything and when we are only concerned with indulging our own desires, then these are the kinds of behaviour that bubble up to the surface. What people witness is something deeply unattractive. The other list is of those attributes that Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit”, the first of which are: love, joy and peace. These are the things that flow naturally from a life of faith and which arise from the gift of the Holy Spirit. What a huge difference there is between these two ways of living!
So, true freedom is not about self-indulgence. The Holy Spirit witnesses to the presence of Jesus himself. What we see in Jesus is not the glorification of his human self, but the glory of God. In the gospel passage today, Jesus is promising to send the Spirit of truth to lead us into complete truth. At an earlier stage in St John’s gospel, in Chapter 8, verse 32, Jesus said: “The truth will set you free.” If it is true freedom that we long for, then let us pray this Pentecost that the anointing Spirit may be poured out on us once more.
There is only so much we can accomplish in human strength and we are limited by our own shortcomings. That fruit of the Spirit of which St Paul spoke can only be brought about by the gift we celebrate at Pentecost – the fire of love that descended upon the first apostles. This is what makes all the difference, perfecting within us those things we could otherwise never achieve. A life of genuine faith will yield fruit, but we need to be open to what God is freely offering. People can see the difference this makes to the lives of those who believe. As the first apostles found, the barriers between people are removed and you don’t even have to share the same language, because the Holy Spirit speaks the universal language of God’s love.
The Swiss theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, shared the insight that we don’t have to conform to a particular culture to be a Christian. We only have to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit through our baptism and live in the freedom of that gift. Then others too will recognise and want to receive this gift for themselves. As von Balthasar says: “The fruits of the Spirit are tasty in anyone’s mouth”.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Forthcoming Services are:-
Thursday 20th May 10.00am
Sunday 23rd May 9.30am
APCM 18th May 2021 7.00pm followed by PCCM
PCC MAP Group 24th May 2021 7.00pm
Sermon Easter 7
Jesus, as he prays to his heavenly Father on behalf of his disciples, says: “They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.” That same sentence would apply to anyone who follows Jesus.
We might think: “Well, I do belong to the world, and it is the only world I have known.” Also, we may be quite attached to the world in various ways. After all, it is a beautiful place. As Louis Armstrong sang: “I say to myself, what a wonderful world.” It is the world of God’s creation and it is given for us to enjoy. There is so much to see and so many experiences to be had.
For all that, it is a world that is scarred in various ways, by violence and disease. The violence in the Holy Land is a crying shame. The effects of a year of Covid are tragic too. The world is also a place of exploitation where some people make themselves very rich at the expense of others. The resources of the world are being depleted, oceans are being polluted and carbon poured into the atmosphere. The results are all too clear. Humanity has not lived up to its calling to be the steward of God’s creation. So, it is a wonderful world from the point of view of creation and natural beauty, but it is a far from perfect place on account of natural disaster and human failure.
To all of this, God’s response is not to wipe away what he has created. Instead, we have a different approach. Earlier on in St John’s gospel, in Chapter 3, verse 17, Jesus says:
“Indeed, God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
So, God does not hate his own creation - including humanity - but intends to redeem it. For this reason, Jesus was born for us, died for us and was raised to new life for us.
Even so, Jesus tells us that he does not belong to the world. By this he means that he does not subscribe to the values of this world. When Jesus stood before the Roman governor, he told him that his was not a kingdom of this world. He did not come to rule over others or to crush his opponents. He came so that the kingdom of God might begin to transform the injustice and the cruelty of this world. In the end he would reign over all, but his kingdom would be one of justice and peace.
In the same way, all who follow Jesus are sharers in the kingdom of God. Whilst living very much in this world, there is a different law to follow and a different value system written on our hearts. In the first letter of St John, we are told that if we love one another, then God lives in us and his love will be complete in us. This way of living is one which is unmistakably different from that which arises from following the ways of a world in which selfishness and the lust for power are all too obvious. People can tell whether or not our faith is genuine. If we profess the faith with our lips, but live as if it made no difference to our lives, then it will make no difference to anyone else either.
Jesus, because he lived by a different set of values, came up against vested interests. The people with power closed ranks against him. Yet, he found the strength and inspiration to follow a different and greater path. Anyone who lives by the values Jesus taught will feel a pull from the opposite direction. Through all this we have a strength and inspiration to draw upon and this does not originate from our world but from its Creator.
As we are just a week away from Pentecost Sunday, we are reminded of the gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift received by all who are baptised. The Holy Spirit of God breathes new life into our mortal bodies. We are no longer subject to a law that corrupts, but we live by a higher and greater law based on the perfection of love. The things of this world come to an end, but we are citizens, through faith, of an everlasting kingdom.
Services this coming week are:-
Thursday 6th May The Ascension of the Lord Mass 10.00am
Sunday 9th May Holy Communion 9.30am
Final notice is given of the following meetings:-
APCM Tuesday 18th May at 7.00pm
PCC Tuesday 18th May immediately following the APCM.
Thy Kingdom Come (Novena of Prayer): Between Ascension and Pentecost we keep a special time of prayer for the church. You can obtain resources through the Diocesan web-site.
Sermon Easter 6
Jesus says: “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
Friendship is a wonderful thing. Even at the best of times, it is important to have friendships, but over the past year it has surely been even more vital for our emotional and psychological flourishing. True friendship is a bond that lasts the test of time and that grows through adversity. When we hear Jesus speak of friendship, it is closely linked to what he has to say about love. Jesus invites us to enter into a relationship which is the extension of that loving connection of Jesus with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Of course, that love and that friendship must be more than mere talk and more than just an ideal. When we learn to love God, we find a deepening desire to live by what Jesus has taught us, bringing to life the ancient commandments of God. The Holy Spirit inspires us to live by what we believe.
So we discover that the love of God is not something exclusive, but that God is prepared to come and meet us where we are, willing us to find a love that can never let us down. After all, Jesus held nothing back for those he loved:
“A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.”
The life of Jesus was laid down for us and by taking it up again, he invites us into a friendship that will outlast anything the world may throw in our direction.
There is a lovely story about St Teresa of Avila, a Spanish mystic and reformer of the religious life in the sixteenth century. During one of her last journeys to Burgos to found another convent, she was obliged to undertake it during a period of weather so severe she had been advised not to proceed. However, convinced of her mission, she and her sisters suffered the wet and freezing temperatures, frequently having to drag the carriages out of the mud and reciting the Creed to keep up their spirits.
Teresa understood hardship, but she was ill and this experience aroused real fears for their survival. After eventually struggling to safety Teresa complained bitterly to God that doing his will cost her so much. God is said to have replied: “But Theresa, this is how I treat my friends. To which Teresa replied: “Yes, my Lord, and that is why you have so few of them.”
Well, true friendship can be costly and not everyone is prepared to make that sacrifice. We see just how much Our Lord’s friendship with us cost him in that he did indeed lay down his life for us. There are no short-cuts, but what costs us in terms of our struggles is infinitely repaid because we come to share in a relationship through which we find a perfect love and a life that has no more endings.
Jesus did not invite his followers to enter into a business partnership with him. There is nothing cold or transactional about our friendship with God. He does not bark commandments down to us from on high, but is here with us in our life experiences and struggles, sharing our joys and our sorrows and restoring our hope and our life.
Today Jesus makes clear to us that we should no longer regard ourselves as his servants who know nothing of our master’s affairs. Instead, we are invited to become friends who are intimately acquainted with God’s thoughts and desires for the world. This relationship is not passive, but a dynamic one, involving action. This is where I think many on the fringe of the Church can miss the point. It’s not about signing up to a rather dull list of do’s and don’ts so that in turn you might get special protection for your efforts. Friendship with Christ does not promise an easy life, but becoming God’s friend means that we grow to see things with his eyes, to care in the way that he cares and to love in the way that he loves.
Services this coming week are:-
Thursday 6th May Feria 10.00am
Sunday 9th May Communion 9.30am
Notice is given of the following meetings:-
APCM Tuesday 18th May at 7.00pm
PCC Tuesday 18th May immediately following the APCM.
Sermon Easter 5
“Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing.”
Jesus speaks to his disciples about how important it is to stay connected. Being in touch is important for everyone. Nowadays of course, a big part of being connected is through the internet. It can’t replace direct contact, but it has certainly made life more bearable for many over the past year and in some cases has been a lifeline. I don’t know where I would have been over the past twelve months without Facetime – being able to see family members and speak to them. In the most extreme cases this has enabled people to be in touch with loved ones when they could not be with them in person at the last. Being completely cut off at such times would have been unthinkable.
When Jesus urged his disciples to stay connected with him, it was long before the days of the internet. He speaks of a deeper and more lasting connection that flows from the intimate communion that Jesus shared with the Father. Because this mystery is difficult to explain, Jesus used familiar imagery – that of vine husbandry. We might not be very familiar with it ourselves, any more than we are with sheep and shepherding, but the idea is not so hard to grasp. Vines produce fruit, but not all the branches are fruitful. This is where pruning comes in, to help the vine to focus its energy on those places that are bearing fruit. Remaining connected to the vine is of course vital, because as Jesus tells us, branches that are no longer in touch with the vine itself will soon wither and die.
For Christians, the life of prayer is what provides sustenance and strength, not just when life is good, but especially through the hard times, when we cannot rely on our own strength alone. For many, this has been a barren year and the usual sources of happiness have not always been on tap. It is at times like this that we can discover just how much we need the strength and the life that God alone can give. If we allow ourselves to be nourished on word and sacrament, then we remain connected to, and receive from, the living God. The vine is Christ himself and we are the branches. From our baptism flows a grace that fills our lives and accomplishes within us those things that we could never do alone.
The disciples of Jesus are called to bear fruit. This means that we do not live for ourselves alone, but that we produce goodness for our world. We can only be sure of this if we live out the faith we have received. In the first letter of St John, we hear:
“Whoever keeps his commandments lives in God and God lives in him. We know that he lives in us by the Spirit that he has given us.”
If, like me, you enjoy a handful of grapes, or even more so, a glass or two of wine, you might not think much about where it has come from. But if it tastes good, you can be sure that a lot of time and skill has gone into producing it. Providing nutrients through good soil, ensuring that there is enough warmth and light – and then pruning – all these things encourage growth and fruitfulness. All this comes as a reminder for us not to forget the source of our own growth and flourishing.
And let’s not shy away from the pruning imagery either. As Jesus says, the fruitful branches are pruned to produce even more growth. Gardeners know all about that. Not all of our life and energy is always being used in the best way. God helps us to see our priorities – what we really need, so to live a good and fruitful life - and what we need to let go of. This past year has helped me and perhaps you too to see what is good and life-giving and what it was that was drawing our energy away.
At Pentecost we shall be reminded of the good fruit that is produced by a genuine life of faith. As St Paul tells us, the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When that fruit is produced by faithful Christians – the branches of the vine – then the world is a better place for it and others will want to experience that life for themselves.
Let’s ensure that we are a living as part of that vineyard of the Church. Above all else, as branches, let’s be sure to remain connected to the vine which is Christ, drawing life from him. If we do this we shall be sure to bear fruit and then, as Jesus himself says in today’s gospel, we shall know that we really are his disciples. The life we draw is not limited to this world alone. Christ our Lord, who has overcome death, transmits to us that life which is eternal.
If we think it is important to keep our internet connection, let’s remember just how much more life-giving it is to remain a part of the vine, in connection to the living and eternal God.
I am a rather old Saint.